What is success to me? That’s the question I asked myself a month ago. I knew the answer; success is when I feel proud of myself and confident. Yet I forgot so easily what makes me proud of myself, getting whisked away by societal ideals.
For so many years I thought I would do English and be an author or an investigative journalist, or both! I thought I would do whatever made me happy. But by the time I got into my last year of high school, I was wrapped up in the image of success that is projected onto us every single day of our lives.
A friend was going to do art history– I was overjoyed for him and thought it was the best thing in the world! But should I do an arts degree in English or Art history – no way! I needed to prove myself, but it gets you nowhere to prove yourself if it is rooted in things you don’t really believe in – i.e. fake superiority. Push yourself, but in the right direction.
So with this incessant need to prove myself to a world that doesn’t actually care and only wants me to be happy, I decided to do health sciences, the first year course that leads you into professional courses like medicine. I convinced myself I wanted to be a doctor for all the right reasons – and I really believed it. This is a danger we have, lying to yourself. So without any science background I went into one of the hardest courses in the country. Don’t get me wrong, I have learned SO much and am grateful. But I was miserable being so focused on only one thing. I knew by the middle of first semester I didn’t want to be a doctor – I was sacrificing so many things I loved. But I kept going, because I would be a ‘failure’ if I dropped out now.
I wasn’t following what I wanted to do. I was trying to make myself something I totally wasn’t to feel important and capable.
I didn’t apply for medicine. It had made me pretty down and negative in less than a year. I like to do a lot of things in my life – go out for dinner with friends, do creative projects, see my boyfriend, participate in art exhibitions, see the sunlight instead of the walls on the library every single day – etc. I wasn’t going to get this in medicine, and started considering midwifery. Was I crazy to consider midwifery when I had the potential for medicine? No. I loved the idea of the course – it was hands on, very personal (I like forming relationships), challenging, and autonomous. I still want to continue science, but also have a healthy, loving life outside of my career/study. This year made me hate doing something I love so much – learning!
Later on in the year it got to my nineteenth birthday and I was getting pretty upset. I realized the reason I was getting so distressed and upset was because when I turned eighteen, I felt like I was achieving so much. But now, I was feeling like I hadn’t grown at all as a person, I felt like I was growing backwards!
I wrote a list of everything I felt proud of. Some things on it were – spending quality time with my brothers, travelling, going skydiving, participating in an art exhibition, meeting the executives of Amnesty NZ, and listening to a panel of Syrian refugees. So why were all my efforts focused on my grades? They only made me happy for five minutes and it was very superficial – the happiness was extended a little longer when I told others and they were proud/admired me (don’t be afraid of admitting you’re a bit self obsessed, recognizing it is the key to losing it).
I wasn’t achieving in the ways that matter to me. I have now applied for midwifery and was lucky enough that they accepted a late application.
So ask yourself, what makes you proud? What makes you tick? Most of us don’t know, but explore the little things that get you going. I want to write books, explore if I want to be a midwife, continue painting, have kids, meet interesting people and be inspired, and do more philanthropic work. I want to challenge myself to grow and look more into my true self. Honesty is necessary. I had been lying to myself for so long, and then lying about lying to myself! I looked down on others who thought of themselves as ‘better’, all the while being a person who couldn’t bare the image of being ‘unsuccessful’. We need to redefine this word. Success is personal, and it’s different for everyone.
Poppy Postance is a 19 year old university student in New Zealand who loves hiking, travelling, meditating, painting, writing, and being inspired. She deleted all her social media but you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org